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Kids deserve better than House bill

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 12:13 p.m. CDT

I firmly believe, we must focus on the overall quality of life for Iowa’s children. We need to unfold the full potential of every child in Iowa and make sure each graduate has the skills necessary to land a good-paying job or pursue higher education.   Any education plan we approve must be research based and improve learning for all students.

Last session, I was invited by the Governor to sit down with him and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, to discuss his education reform proposal. He expressed his concern about Iowa’s rank on several standardized tests.  I told him while I value the data provided by these tests, my deepest concern is for the kids from families facing economic hurdles nearly impossible to overcome. I made the case that we need to pay just as much attention to statistics relating to the number of kids who qualify for free and reduced lunches. Thankfully, this program is available to kids and families experiencing financial challenges. The number of kids on this list goes up and up. I told the governor, ‘when we put parents back to work, we raise student test scores.’   

Shift forward to this week at the Capitol. The House Majority offered their Education Reform Plan.  We had a very long night of debate on Tuesday. In fact, the final vote didn’t come until around nine o’clock the next morning.  While the bill passed along party lines, I’m concerned that it will not improve student achievement.   I couldn’t support the bill, and frankly, I hope the Senate sends us a better option.

The education bill offered by the house majority simply grows bureaucracy, ignores the classroom, and shortchanges teachers and kids. It doesn’t put kids first.  It won’t do much to keep our best teachers in the classroom and attract new, quality educators. I’m concerned that the bill doesn’t address the development of basic education requirements known as the “Iowa Core.” Underachieving students are ignored and early childhood education is glaringly absent from the bill.

The house majority does not take into consideration the rising number of students living in poverty. Nor do they provide teachers with the resources to help students facing difficulties outside of the classroom.

The proposal calls for too much money to be spent on growing the Department of Education in Des Moines. I’d rather see money go to the classroom. In just the first year, if the bill is signed into law, $10 million would go to the Department of Education to hire 19 new employees. $1 million would be spent on advertising and marketing. I found it hard to believe the house majority would make these proposals and approve them.   Our kids and educators deserve better.

This bill is similar to the Governor’s plan but contains a few major differences. The governor and the house majority have very different approaches to beginning teacher pay and allowable growth.

The house majority scaled back the Governor’s plan by lowering beginning teacher salaries.  The Governor called for beginning teachers to earn a minimum of $35,000. The house majority plan ignores this proposal. Iowa has quality teachers. To keep the best and the brightest entering the teaching profession, we have to set beginning teacher salaries at a competitive level.

I supported a successful amendment which, if the bill is signed into law, will finally set allowable growth for Iowa’s schools. Our first order of business this year should have been to set the rate for school funding. Called allowable growth, the Legislature is mandated by code to set the rate 30 days after the Governor releases the budget. This gives schools about 18 months advance notice concerning what state funds they will receive. Then local school boards begin to set their budgets.

After over a year of obstruction from the majority party and Governor Branstad, this bill finally sets school funding for next year at 2 percent. While it is a step forward, it is still short of what our schools need and well short of the Senate plan for 4 percent. The governor refuses to set allowable growth and empower local school boards to set their budgets. We can’t continue to ignore the fiscal challenges schools already face with rising health care, transportation, technology, and energy costs.

Our educators deserve better than this proposal. Iowa’s parents deserve better, and most importantly, our kids deserve better.

I’m proud to represent Newton, Colfax, Baxter, Mingo, Kellogg, Prairie City, Lambs Grove, Ira, and Valeria. Feel free to contact me anytime at (641) 521-9260 or dan.kelley@legis.state.ia.us. Visit my website at www.electkelley.com and ‘friend’ me on facebook.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

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